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John Tavener

Publisher: Chester Music

Theophany (1993)
commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its centenary
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
30 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Tavener Theophany (1993)
Theophany for orchestra and tape is an attempt in musical terms to 'redefine' the presence of God in all things as seen from the earliest days of Creation, through to the Psalmist. I prefer to think of the music once again as an 'ikon' in sound, since I do not write in purely abstract forms, although it would be perfectly possible to listen to the music as purely organised sounds, with recurring phrases, textures, interactions, harmonies, rhythms etc.

The music is based on the Plagal of the fourth Byzantine tone. The orchestra is divided into strings, woodwinds, brass, timpani and tape, which runs for the duration of the piece. The music begins with taped sounds representing an 'image' of the 'uncreated energies of God' in distinct, and very low pitches with the Greek words 'I AM' signifying no beginning, no middle, no end: in fact no finite dimension. These pitches then literally form the 'basis' and 'base' of the orchestral music that follows, painting colours over the stark 'basis'. This happens first with the strings, then with the woodwinds, then with the brass and timpani, and then with the alto flute and bandir drum, an ancient drum used by the Sufis to represent the 'heart-beat'; and from the tape we hear 'Adam' 'singing' without breath 'I am', and image or 'hint' of man in his Paradisial state. Then the 'uncreated energies' are heard once again with different pitches, providing the 'basis' of the string, wind, brass, alto flue, bandir drum and 'Eve' sections. Before the final 'cosmic tidal wave', 'Adam' and 'Eve' and the whole orchestra join together very quietly. The final image of 'uncreated sound' is one of apocalyptic terror and awe - tape and orchestra playing together. The 20 second silence that follows represents for me the cosmic catastrophe of fall and end.

"…In the clouds of heaven with power and great glory"
St Matthew 24 & 30

John Tavener

  • Ensemble
    City of London Sinfonia / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Stephen Richardson, baritone
    Richard Hickox
  • Conductor
    Richard Hickox
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